“In March, everything was so depressing. I texted Sia and said, ‘The world needs us.’”
David Guetta makes the writing of a new song sound like two Hollywood superheroes getting together to bash seven bells out of the baddies. No wonder: the French DJ and Australian songwriter Sia Furler have a reputation for blockbusters. The pair’s latest collaboration, Let’s Love, follows Flames in 2018, She Wolf (Falling to Pieces) in 2012 and Titanium in 2011 – all top 10 hits in the UK, the latter a triple platinum-selling number one.
Even without her help, Guetta’s ear for a smash is impeccable. He’s scored six number ones over here, not to mention sitting at the top of the US charts for 14 weeks straight in 2009 as the producer and co-writer of The Black Eyed Peas’ I Gotta Feeling. Alongside Calvin Harris and the late Avicii, he’s been heavily responsible for turning the sound of the clubs into the sound of the pop charts. So when he says the world needs a an air-punching piece of retro power pop that couldn’t be more Eighties if it arrived quoting Top Gun on a spacehopper, we ought to believe him.
“In the Eighties the music was just simple, feelgood. They weren’t trying to be super clever. They would just go for the feelgood chorus. That’s what I wanted to do with this song,” he explains. “When I did I Gotta Feeling, it was the financial crisis. Everything was terrible. We made this simple song and it was the biggest record of my life.”
On paper he shouldn’t be feeling so optimistic. He’s talking via Zoom from his home in Ibiza, where his lucrative dual residencies at the superclubs Ushuaïa and Hï Ibiza have been off all summer. He says the posters on the island’s billboards are all advertising events from the past. But like everyone whose familiar working life has been shaken this year, he’s used the time to have a rethink.
“I have so much time now that all the time I spent travelling is gone. I’m not jetlagged any more. I’ve never been so creative in my life. I think this is gonna change my ways,” he says.
He was already taking stock before the pandemic, when the suicide of his friend and fellow superstar DJ Tim “Avicii” Bergling in April 2018 came as a huge blow. “His death made me reconsider my entire life. I started to do less. It showed me we’re not invincible. We need to listen to our bodies and pay attention to our mental health.”
At 52, perhaps he ought to be slowing down anyway. He has two teenage children with Cathy Lobé, who he divorced after 22 years in 2014, and his 16-year-old son Tim is closer in age than he is to those he entertains at clubs and festivals around the world. But he looks younger with his familiar long hair cut short, and his Instagram feed features plenty of shots of the pool-and-pecs variety. “I have this feeling that I don’t age, because the people that I’m with are always the same age,” he says. “I started DJing when I was 17 and the people in front of me were about 22, and they’re still 22 now.”
It must be hard to step away from such a lifestyle. He books private planes to see his children in London, where they live. The most recent chart of DJ’s earnings by the business magazine Forbes put him in eighth place, between Martin Garrix and Zedd, pulling in an estimated $18 million in 2019. As with models and footballers, the wider public doesn’t always understand how someone can be paid so much for apparently doing so little, and it opens him to ridicule. A Saturday Night Live sketch in 2014 featured a DJ who looked rather like him doing nothing but pressing a big red button that said “BASS” once, while the crowd literally exploded in ecstasy. A YouTube video of him DJing on the pitch at the opening ceremony of the Euro 2016 football tournament was overdubbed with a comedy voice shouting, “I am so rich! Money! Money!”
His gilded life can leave him looking out of touch with the mood of ordinary folk, too. At the end of May, in a livestreamed DJ set on top of New Yorks’s Rockefeller Center five days after the murder of George Floyd, he offered a “shout out to his [Floyd’s] family” by putting Martin Luther King Jr’s “I have a dream” speech over thumping EDM beats. Well intentioned, no doubt – and the performance raised over $1.5 million for Covid-19 relief – but he was slaughtered online. “And where were you, when David Guetta ended racism?” wrote one of the kinder commenters.
His people have forbidden me from asking about the event today, but Guetta is open to hearing the charge that working at such an echelon means that he has sacrificed musical credibility for commercial success. More recently he has been focusing more on house music under an alias, Jack Back, and making a harder techno sound that he calls “future rave” in collaboration with Danish DJ MORTEN. It might seem pointless while the clubs are closed but he’s enjoying the sonic change.
“Everything I was doing 10 years ago was about making records that could be played on the radio, at a festival and in a club at the same time. It kind of worked. I think I created a sound that really crossed over. But it got me stuck for a minute. Now I don’t want to compromise and do something in the middle,” he says.
So now he has his club music, and the separate singles can be pure pop. Let’s Love has a lot in common sonically with the similarly Eighties-sounding Blinding Lights by The Weeknd, which spent eight weeks at number one earlier this year. Guetta still knows all about mass appeal. And this time, he has the sentiment right: “So take my hand, don’t be afraid/This too shall pass, this too shall pass/And we’ll get through it all together,” Sia sings.
It might just keep his fans going until they can join him in Ibiza again. Another livestreamed show in Miami in April, which people could watch from balconies in the tower blocks surrounding him, confirmed to him that what he does is still necessary. “It was the only time these people could forget about everything,” he says. “It was clear: people really need this in their lives.”
Let’s Love is out now on Warner Music